Tag: Lawrence athletics

Kenya Earl’s record-setting career at Lawrence has been a thrilling journey

Kenya Earl brings the ball up court Jan. 15 vs. Grinnell at Alexander Gym.

Story by Joe Vanden Acker / Athletics

It’s almost unfathomable to think what Kenya Earl nearly missed. The Lawrence University women’s basketball star has earned numerous accolades, set multiple records, and will go down as one of the greatest players in Lawrence basketball history.

Earl’s latest achievement was breaking the career scoring record in Lawrence’s 66-48 win over Grinnell College on Jan. 15. She now stands at 1,489 points, two better than Claire Getzoff, a 2006 graduate and Lawrence Hall of Famer.

The alternate reality for Earl was college life without basketball at her hometown school, the University of Iowa, and that was going to be the choice. A big assist goes to former Lawrence coach Ashley Wellman for getting Earl to Appleton.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing, but luckily (Wellman) kept reaching out,” Earl said.

Wellman said Earl believed she might not be good enough to play college basketball. Wellman, with a knowing smile, assured Earl she could definitely play the game at the next level, and she made the drive from Iowa City to visit. After that, it was basically a done deal.

“I just wanted to get here and play, play basketball,” Earl said. “Everyone was so nice. The team was so nice.”

Scoring record falls during Jan. 15 game against Grinnell

Kenya Earl celebrates with her teammates after breaking Lawrence’s all-time women’s basketball scoring record on Jan. 15.

Earl became an instant sensation for the Vikings. She posted a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds in her first collegiate game and has piled up 22 more double-doubles in the ensuing seasons. Earl finished her rookie season at 17.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and was an All-Midwest Conference selection.

“I was lucky to start and that gave me a lot of confidence,” Earl said of her rookie season in 2017-18. “I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the beginning. I gained more confidence from my team.”

Head coach Riley Woldt took over the program in 2018, and he knew Earl was a fine player but the appreciation quickly grew.

“Another special thing about Kenya is how versatile she is,” Woldt said. “(The coaching staff) quickly realized that if we kept her down (in the post), teams could double- and triple-team her. We needed to open up her role on offense so, one, she could get touches and get more touches, and two, we could have more balance and flow on offense.”

Taking advantage of Earl’s outside shooting ability (she has knocked down 92 3-pointers in her career) and her knack for getting to the foul line (she’s a career 85 percent free-throw shooter), she averaged 16.8 points and 8.4 rebounds as a sophomore in 2018-19. Earl was a first-team all-conference selection that season.

Student profile: 2 Minutes With … Kenya Earl

After two seasons, Earl was well over halfway to Getzoff’s career scoring record of 1,487. Her teammates quickly pointed that out.

“When I hit my junior year, people were saying, ‘You could break the all-time record,’ and I’m thinking what are you talking about,” Earl said.

A five-time Midwest Conference Player of the Week, Earl had the best season of her career in 2019-20 as she broke her own season record with 443 points. A first-team all-conference selection again, she averaged 18.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

“Going into my senior year last year, we got canceled due to COVID and that was hard,” Earl said. “I wanted to come back just to figure out my academics more and that once-in-a-lifetime chance to break this record.”

A biology major, Earl is the only player in the league this year averaging a double-double at 14.9 points and a conference-best 10.4 rebounds per contest. She entered the season just 208 points away from breaking Getzoff’s record. 

“I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself and psych myself out,” Earl said. “This season I’m just trying to win games for my team and chip away at it.”

Earl’s low-key demeanor belies the fire that burns inside the player, Woldt said.

“I love what she brings to the table every single day. She’s early to practice, goes to her own hoop to get ready for practice. But she’s not distant. A total team player. Our humble warrior,” Woldt said.

While Earl’s offensive exploits draw the attention, she is a good defender and ranks third on Lawrence’s career list with 722 rebounds and second with 94 blocks.

“What I’ve been really impressed with is that Kenya’s become a really smart, savvy defender,” said Woldt, adding that Earl draws the other team’s top post player but also is good on the perimeter and in help defense.

“Her growth that we’ve seen is that she understands our defense, but she knows how to contest shots, put her body in a place to help.”

The Vikings have continued to grow as Earl has matured. Lawrence is 6-8 this season and tied for fourth in the league at 3-3. The top four teams make the MWC Tournament, and the Vikings are eyeing one of those spots. 

“We’ve been talking all season about what our goal is, and our goal is to reach the top four,” said Earl, who has 10 regular-season games left. 

The other individual goal for Earl could be one last record. She stands just 77 points away from breaking Lawrence’s all-time scoring record of 1,565 held by three-time All-American Chris Braier.

“I hear a lot about Chris Braier, and I’ve met him a couple of times. To be put in the same category as him is mind-blowing,” Earl said. 

“The team goal is the most important right now. It would be really nice to make (the tournament) and going out with a bang this last year.”

Earl is in the twilight of her career, and that brings a harsh reality for Woldt — getting ready for life after Kenya Earl.

“You can’t replace a Kenya Earl. It takes multiple players to replace all the things she does,” said Woldt. “The Kenya Earls, the Clarie Getzoffs, the Felice Porratas only come around once in a great while.”

Joe Vanden Acker is director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University.

Casey Korn ready to put in the hard work of building a hoops winner at Lawrence

Coach Casey Korn leads the men’s basketball team through drills in a late October practice in Alexander Gym. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Casey Korn knows where he wants to go, where he wants to take his Lawrence University men’s basketball team.


That’s the dream. That’s always the dream for college hoopsters. But Korn, about to begin his first season as the Vikings’ head coach, knows it’s the details and work habits tended to in summer, fall, and winter that will determine what success might come in spring.

“The goal is to try to be at the top of the Midwest Conference every year, which will give you the opportunity to play basketball in March,” Korn said. “From experience I can tell you, March basketball is a lot of fun. But you can’t skip steps. You have to work hard in February. You have to work hard in October. You have to work hard in July.”

Schedule and other information on Lawrence men’s basketball here.

That will be the message as Korn leads Lawrence onto the court for the first time at 5 p.m. Nov. 6, a game in Alexander Gym against Marian University. It comes just two months after Korn was hired to lead the program following Zach Filzen’s departure to take a coaching job in his home state of Minnesota.

It’s been both a dream and a whirlwind for Korn, who was already living close to the Lawrence campus when he accepted the job offer from Director of Athletics Kim Tatro in early September. A native of the St. Louis area, he and his wife, Ashley, had moved to Appleton three years ago when Korn took a job as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It reconnected him with his former college teammate, Matt Lewis, who was in the process of building a powerhouse program in Oshkosh.

Casey Korn came on board as Lawrence’s new men’s basketball coach in early September.

It was in Korn’s first year at UWO that the Titans won the NCAA Division III national championship. They would qualify for the tournament again the following year. Korn was taking notes every step of the way.

“Just the standards, the high expectations,” Korn said of what he learned through the UWO experience. “They have high standards and don’t apologize for them.”

It was on the recruiting side in particular that Korn said he got an education. He had been a high school coach prior to coming to UWO, so recruiting was new to him.

“I learned a lot about the relationship piece of it,” Korn said. “Helping 17- and 18-year-old high school students feel comfortable, and helping them to make a decision. Sometimes you are not the right choice or the right fit, but if you do right by people and you’re honest with people, it’ll work out. You are going to find the people who are right for your program and want to be here.”

Flashback to when March Madness gripped the Lawrence campus

Korn played both basketball and baseball as an undergraduate at Cornell College. He graduated from Cornell in 2009 and recently finished his master’s degree in athletic administration from Concordia University, Nebraska. He coached high school basketball at various schools in Missouri over the course of nine years before joining the UWO staff in 2018.

Now in his first head coaching position at the collegiate level, Korn leads a Lawrence team that features All-Midwest Conference standout Brad Sendell and two other returning starters, Brandon Danowski and Julian DeGuzman. But because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season last year, Korn is looking at nine newcomers among first-year and sophomore players.

His message to those players has been simple: Work hard, take care of your studies, and help build a program that you and your peers can take pride in.

“Overall, we just want them to set a standard for who they want to become and who we should be here at Lawrence,” Korn said. “Mistakes are going to be made along the way. But we’re going to continue to grow and continue to learn from them as we go. That’s what our philosophy is going to be. We want to excel on the court and in the classroom, and we’re going to put a product on the floor that people will be proud to come and watch.”

Men’s basketball coach Casey Korn said he’s focused on building a foundation for sustained success: “We will have high expectations.”

The ongoing pandemic has kept things from fully opening up. Lawrence’s winter sports policy will limit attendance for indoor events—each student-athlete will have a two-person pass list; other than that, only Lawrence students, faculty, and staff can attend.

That means another of Korn’s priorities is temporarily on pause. He wants to increase the frequency of youth basketball camps held in Alexander Gymnasium and make Lawrence basketball a more visible presence in Appleton. He wants his players to volunteer in local schools. He wants them to be seen.

“Once you start building some of those relationships—with the schools, the teachers, the students—all of a sudden maybe they’ll come and support what you’re trying to do,” Korn said. “Again, it’s that big relationship piece, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to get done.”

The next step for Korn and the program comes with the Nov. 6 season opener against Marian. The plan is to get better each day, each week, each month, and in the process build something that can be sustained, he said.

“Winning is fun, I will say that,” Korn said, reflecting on the March basketball he’s experienced. “We will have high expectations. This is a good league, the Midwest Conference. It’s not a one-bid league where you have to win your conference tournament to get into the national tournament, but that’s the easiest route to go. That’s where we want to be. We want to be a program that grows to be a staple in this conference and plays in national tournaments. … But you can’t skip steps.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Cross country, soccer teams lead huge athletics weekend for Lawrence

Teammates surround Lawrence University’s Emma Vasconez Saturday after she scored a goal in double overtime against Monmouth College to send Lawrence to the Midwest Conference Tournament. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University closed out October with a sensational weekend courtesy of its men’s and women’s cross country teams and its men’s and women’s soccer teams.

Both cross country teams won their Midwest Conference Championships on Saturday at Tuscumbia Country Club in Green Lake, the first time both have been crowned champs in the same year in Lawrence history. Cristyn Oliver, a sophomore from Redondo Beach, California, won the women’s individual championship, a first for Lawrence since 1998.

Cristyn Oliver poses with Midwest Conference Director Heather Benning following her winning run Saturday in Green Lake.

On the soccer field, both the women and men qualified for the Midwest Conference Tournament, both for the first time since 2011. The women did so in a thrilling double overtime win over Monmouth College on Ron Roberts Field at the Banta Bowl. The men, meanwhile, lost 1-0 to Monmouth but qualified for the tournament when Lake Forest fell to Grinnell.

It was a historic weekend for the Vikings, and one that points to the upswing Lawrence athletics programs are on.

“It was a great day to be a Viking,” said women’s soccer coach Joe Sagar, who has led a revival of the soccer program since coming on board in 2018.

The women’s soccer win came with plenty of drama. Emma Vasconez, a sophomore from Huntley, Illinois, scored her first collegiate goal in the 105th minute, lifting Lawrence to a thrilling win in the second overtime and setting off a wild on-field celebration. Lawrence needed a win in order to qualify for the four-team conference tournament.

Coach Joe Sagar celebrates with Emma Vasconez following her game-winning goal at the Banta Bowl. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“I think the late goal is a testament to how hard we have worked all season, our dedication, and our willingness to never give up,” Vasconez said. “I’m happy I was able to contribute to such a special moment and honor our seniors who have dedicated so much to our program. Being on the field and sharing an emotional moment like that with my team and coaches, and with our parents watching in the stands, is something I’ll never forget.”

Sagar called it an “amazing achievement” for a program that hit rock bottom when it went winless three years ago.

“It was such a perfect end to the regular season, and seeing Emma, who has been such a key part of our success this year, score her goal was exciting and emotional,” he said. “Emma took a risk and was composed enough to put the ball into the goal and send us into the postseason for the first time in a decade. The happiness on all of the players’ faces reminds us all of why sport is so important.”

The women’s and men’s soccer teams will go into their respective conference tournaments as No. 4 seeds, and both will face top-seeded Knox College in the semifinals.

Lawrence University’s 2021 Midwest Conference women’s cross country champions.

The cross country teams, meanwhile, wrote their own history on Saturday, the women securing a conference title for the first time since 2001 and the men claiming their first conference championship since 2011.

Oliver went where no Lawrence runner has gone in 23 years, winning the women’s individual cross country conference championship. She did so by a whopping 48 seconds, putting up a time of 22:30.72 on the 6,000-meter course. Lawrence took the team title with 42 points, 20 points better than second-place Grinnell.

“Cristyn had a humongous lead right after the mile mark and just kept cruising,” Coach Jason Fast said. “She’s been like a machine. Once she hits the course, there’s no stopping her.”

Lawrence University’s 2021 Midwest Conference men’s cross country champions.

In the men’s race, Lawrence took the team title with 46 points, four points better than Cornell College. Collin Beyer, a first-year from Portland, Oregon, led the Lawrence men, placing third over the 8,000-meter course in 26:15.44.

“I was telling them during the race that we’re doing it,” Fast said of his men’s team. “They knew we were doing well, and when they finished they knew we ran really well. They had their best race of the year when they needed it.”

Director of Athletics Kim Tatro called Saturday a milestone day, one Lawrence will build on moving forward.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the success of our men’s and women’s cross country programs,” she said. “To win both team titles and essentially secure every possible award at the Midwest Conference meet is unheard of. And to have both men’s and women’s soccer in the Midwest Conference tournament is phenomenal, especially when you understand the recent history of our programs. Our women’s team didn’t win a game in 2018 and Coach Sagar and the current women in our program have turned that around quickly.  In similar fashion, our men’s team only won four games in 2018 and Coach (Will) Greer and the men in our program are to be commended on the strides they have made to improve our program.”

For more action from the Vikings’ incredible weekend, including wins for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, see the Lawrence Athletics web site.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Joe Vanden Acker, director of athletic media relations, contributed to this report.

Vikings athletics sidelined until January as Midwest Conference suspends play

Lawrence University’s Banta Bowl

The Midwest Conference has suspended play for the fall season following a meeting of the league’s Presidents Council on Monday.

The presidents of the 10 conference institutions made the decision to suspend play for the fall season and to delay the start of the winter sports season through the end of 2020, according to a statement from the Midwest Conference (MWC). The presidents made the decision in coordination with their athletic directors in order to protect the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff, and the campus and local communities, the statement said.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes is our top priority,” Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. “With the surge of COVID-19 cases around the country, we believe this is the best course of action to protect our student-athletes, coaches, faculty and staff.”

See Lawrence’s Planning for Fall 2020, including FAQ, here.

See more on Lawrence Athletics here.

See Midwest Conference FAQ here.

The MWC will continue to monitor the factors impacting the decision for suspension of the fall and winter sport seasons and take action to resume athletic competition when it is deemed safe to do so, according to the statement from the league office.

Tatro, who has been a member of the Lawrence coaching staff since 1993, saw her final season as the softball coach cut short back in March as the pandemic forced the cancellation of the rest of the spring sports season.

“This was a very difficult decision for everyone involved in the process,” Tatro said. “Our student-athletes want to compete and our coaches want to be leading their teams. We certainly understand the desire of our student-athletes to play the games they love so dearly, but the dangers of exposure to COVID-19 are just too great.”

Lawrence teams that are affected by this are football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s cross country, and volleyball. The start of competition would be delayed for men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming (indoor track also is included, but Lawrence traditionally doesn’t compete during the indoor season until January). The Presidents Council had decided in mid-July to limit fall competition to Midwest Conference opponents only, but a dramatic increase in cases around the nation forced the league to evaluate the situation further.

“Throughout the summer Lawrence searched for ways to mount a fall athletic season while working hard to ensure our student-athletes and their coaches remained healthy,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “After many conference conversations it is clear that not all members can support the NCAA health guidelines for competition. In light of this situation, I deeply regret that the conference has decided to not proceed with competition this fall. This is a significant disappointment for me personally, and I am sure is a disappointment for many. I know Athletics Director Tatro and her team will find ways to keep our student-athletes engaged and in physical and mental shape, and I look forward to seeing our programs compete in future seasons.”

The Midwest Conference joins more than 20 NCAA Division III conferences that have suspended play for the fall season.

Decisions regarding men’s and women’s hockey, which both fall under the auspices of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, and men’s and women’s fencing, which is part of the Midwest Fencing Conference, will occur at a later date, according to Tatro. All four of those teams are scheduled to begin their seasons with practice in October.

“Our hope is to get through this arduous time and return to some sense of normalcy,” Tatro said. “I eagerly anticipate the day when our teams can return. Adversity is something our student-athletes deal with on a regular basis and this situation is no different. We will move forward in a manner that will make the best of a difficult situation.”

New court design unveiled, part of makeover at Alexander Gymnasium

A Viking ship is featured prominently in the new court design in Alexander Gym. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Joe Vanden Acker / Athletics

Alexander Gymnasium is already a grand, historic structure, but the home of the Vikings is getting a makeover.

The 91-year-old home of Lawrence’s Department of Athletics and the competition venue for basketball and volleyball is undergoing a transformation, which was funded through donations by alumni and friends of the University. The first phase is complete with the unveiling of the new basketball/volleyball court.

“We couldn’t be more excited and appreciative of the new floor design for Alexander Gym,” Lawrence Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. “While resurfacing was certainly a maintenance requirement, the fresh new design work is an added bonus. We appreciate those whose donations made this possible.”

The main court will retain the east/west configuration that has been in place for 35 years, but the court will look dramatically different. Designed by Art Director Matt Schmeltzer of the Lawrence Communications Office, the court features a Viking ship that stretches from the 3-point lines on either end of the floor.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the new floor design,” said men’s basketball coach Zach Filzen. “It looks phenomenal and is extremely well-designed. The new court, in addition to the other renovations, will go a long way in improving Alex Gym. We have a special facility when it comes to character and history. Being able to bring some updated aspects to our gym should make it a very fun place to play and watch high-level competition in the future.”

Cutting through the waves, the Viking ship uses as a figurehead the antelope from the Lawrence coat of arms. The shield from the same coat of arms adorns the side of the vessel. On the massive sail is the center jump circle with Lawrence’s interlocking LU logo.

“We are really excited about the new floor,” volleyball coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “It is a great upgrade to the facility that is not only eye-catching but shows our pride in Lawrence athletics. Looking forward to getting the team out there and trying it out.”

The border of the court is done in the dark blue that has been worn by Lawrence athletes for more than a century. The free throw lane, known as “the paint” in basketball parlance, wears the same dark blue paint. Each baseline features the words Lawrence University, and the sideline in front of the bleachers says Home Of The Vikings.

Workers prepare the logo on the refurbished floor in Alexander Gym.

“We are already fortunate to have one of the most unique and distinct places to play,” women’s basketball coach Riley Woldt said. “I’m really excited for our current players, all of the Viking alumni, and the entire Lawrence and Appleton communities to see and embrace the new court design, one that does an awesome job of incorporating Lawrence tradition within the comfy confines of Alexander Gymnasium. It’s going to give off a great feel on game day but will provide some wonderful energy for all those who come through the doors on a daily basis.”

This is the first phase of improvements taking place at Alexander Gymnasium during the summer of 2020. Alexander Gym, which has seen three teams win a total of 11 conference championships over the years, also gets a new set of bleachers. The old wooden bleachers, which were the original set of pull-out bleachers in the facility, had been in the gym since the mid-1960s. The new bleachers are set to be installed at the end of May.

The final piece of the renovation is a transformation of the lobby. With its terrazzo floor and high-arching ceiling, the lobby will serve as home to the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame and serve as a gathering space for fans and families of the Vikings.

Joe Vanden Acker is director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University. Email: joseph.m.vandenacker@lawrence.edu

Coach Kleiber ready to lead new women’s ice hockey program at Lawrence

Jocey Kleiber on launching a new women’s hockey program: “I’m just trying to get [the players] to buy into being the first players to wear our jersey next season, which is a pretty unique experience.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

By Alex Freeman ’23

Lawrence University is launching a brand-new athletics program: Get ready for women’s hockey!

It will be the 22nd varsity sports program at Lawrence, bringing the roster of varsity sports to 11 women’s and 11 men’s teams. The Vikings will join the men’s hockey program in the competitive Northern Collegiate Hockey Association and play at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Lawrence will be the 10th women’s squad in the NCHA and one of 67 teams competing in NCAA Division III.

“We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women’s ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020–21 academic year,” says Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray. “The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence. It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking.”

After an extensive search, Jocelyn “Jocey” Kleiber has been chosen to lead the new Lawrence University women’s ice hockey program as it prepares to embark on its inaugural season.

Kleiber was an assistant coach at the North American Hockey Academy in 2015 and 2016. She also served as a graduate assistant coach at Robert Morris University (Pa.) from 2013 through 2015. Prior to joining Lawrence, she spent three years as an assistant coach at Stevenson University in Maryland, helping to coach them to the Middle Atlantic Conference championship in 2018. A 2012 graduate of Niagara University, Kleiber was a standout defensive player for the Purple Eagles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management in 2012 and went on to earn a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Robert Morris in 2015.

“What made Jocey stand apart was her detailed plan of growing a program from the beginning and her enthusiasm to become part of the community, here on campus, in the Fox Valley and the Upper Midwest,” says Abaray.

We sat down to talk to Kleiber about taking the helm of this exciting new program.

On Kleiber’s first day on the Lawrence campus as the new women’s ice hockey head coach, she did not yet have access to her email. By day two, she had 25 emails in her inbox from possible new recruits. From there, the recruitment process took off.

By the beginning of the 2020–21 school year, Lawrence will have formed its inaugural women’s ice hockey team—the first new Lawrence NCAA program since the 1980s. And Kleiber is building it from the ground up.

“I have a lot of friends that are coaches too, so they’ve inherited programs that have been around for 10-20-30 years,” Kleiber said. “So they have to try and change a culture, whereas here, you actually get to start the culture. … I’m just trying to get [the players] to buy into being the first players to wear our jersey next season, which is a pretty unique experience.”

With three years of experience as an assistant coach under her belt, Kleiber is excited to take on the challenge of being a head coach. For now, that means focusing most of her energy on recruitment.

Before the COVID-19 safer-at-home lockdown, Kleiber’s year consisted of traveling around the U.S. to watch women’s hockey tournaments, reaching out to coaches and potential recruits and helping to facilitate campus visits. Through this process, 30 recruits have already applied to Lawrence.

Kleiber hopes Lawrence can win 10 games in its first season. She acknowledges that the goal is optimistic, but she is confident that it is attainable as long as the players embrace the systems and strategies she presents.

From there, the team can start working to achieve a more long-term goal: a spot in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) championship. Eventually, Kleiber hopes they might even earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s going to take maybe some baby steps at first, but we’ll get there,” Kleiber said. “It’s just a process of [getting the team to] buy in. It’s getting everyone to be on the same page and getting it to work.”

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Tony Aker named football coach at Lawrence University: “I’m beyond thrilled”

Tony Aker

Tony Aker, a former football standout in Wisconsin at the high school and college levels, was announced Tuesday as the new head football coach at Lawrence University.

Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray said Aker, who has spent the past four years on the coaching staff at Carroll University, will bring with him a deep knowledge of Wisconsin and Midwest recruiting.

“We are excited to have Coach Aker and his family join the Lawrence University team,” Abaray said. “Tony is the right person at the helm to steer our program forward – implementing the steps to build, piece by piece. His experience, knowledge and energy represent what we will do — bring our Wisconsin and regional talent to Lawrence while continuing to embrace our national footprint, grow and develop our football scholar-athletes into leaders of the world and be active members of the community.”

Aker is the 29th head coach in Lawrence history.

“I’m beyond thrilled and excited to be named head football coach at Lawrence,” Aker said. “I want to extend my thanks to President (Mark) Burstein, Christyn Abaray and the search committee for entrusting me to lead this great program. I look forward to developing our current Lawrentians both on and off the football field, establishing great relationships with our many alumni and working relentlessly to bring the best and brightest future Vikings from our great state, region and beyond.”

Aker was an All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection as a wide receiver during his playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In high school, he was a standout athlete at Brown Deer High School and was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Wisconsin Athlete of the Year in 2005. Before transferring to UWSP, he spent two years at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota, where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and two-time all-region performer, helping to lead his team to the 2007 NJCAA national championship.

Aker was on the coaching staff at UWSP before moving on to Carroll, where he worked as associate head coach/offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks. He was most recently serving as the interim head coach at Carroll. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UWSP in 2012 and is working toward a master’s degree in education.

“My family and I are excited to become members of the Lawrence community as well as our greater Fox Valley community,” Aker said. “It truly is a great time to be a Viking.”

For a complete story on the Aker hiring, see here.

Two Lawrence hockey players launch Little Vikes, a wellness outreach for kids

Jordan Boehlke and Danny Toycen stand in front of the net on a hockey rink at Appleton Family Ice Center.
Jordan Boehlke ’20 and Danny Toycen ’21 stand for a portrait during a recent hockey practice at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Boehlke and Toycen started the Little Vikes student club last year and are looking to grow it this year.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

How do you get Lawrence students out in the community while also promoting the health of children in the Appleton area? Little Vikes has it figured out.

The club, founded by two Lawrence University men’s hockey players, provides opportunities for athletics and general wellness education to children in the Fox Cities through mentoring and support from Lawrence students. The Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) approved Little Vikes as an official club last spring, making it a new addition to the school’s repertoire of more than 100 student organizations.

Danny Toycen ’21 and Jordan Boehlke ’20 founded Little Vikes in the summer of 2018. The club isn’t Toycen’s first experience with volunteer work. When he was a junior hockey player in La Crosse, he connected with his community as a peer mentor for younger players.

“We’d bring little kids and youth hockey players into the locker room,” Toycen recalls, “and they’d give us a pep talk or we’d give them fist bumps and stuff like that. They loved it.”

Toycen also assisted Coulee Region Sled Hockey in La Crosse, where individuals with disabilities that prevent them from skating can navigate the ice on sleds. He was moved by seeing people overcome obstacles to be active and have fun playing the sport they love.

He took these experiences with him to Appleton, where he saw a need for mentors for children needing wellness education.

“Getting to do stuff like that is what I really loved,” Toycen says. “I just wanted to do something like that here at Lawrence.”

Thus, Little Vikes was born. It’s still in its infancy, but Toycen and Boehlke say they hope it’ll grow well beyond its dozen members and will establish itself as an active student program that will live on at Lawrence long after they’ve graduated.

The mission is simple, yet has the potential for high impact in the lives it touches.

“We’re trying to promote an active and healthy lifestyle, while still putting an emphasis on education and things like that,” Toycen says. “We want the kids being active, learning sportsmanship and being on a team. Things that come from being an athlete I’ll definitely take into any job or career I choose to follow.”

Since becoming an official club, Little Vikes has been able to plot a clearer course for community outreach. The most recent development is a budding partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. The club plans to host weekly activities and events at the nonprofit youth organization’s local facilities.

Toycen also is setting his sights on working with SOAR Fox Cities, a local nonprofit and Special Olympics agency that provides a range of programs for disabled individuals.

In the meantime, the club’s activities are geared toward connecting with kids in the Fox Cities and spreading the word about its mission. In November, Little Vikes will hold its second annual Toy Drive for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. The group also will visit classrooms at Horizon Elementary School in Appleton in February to make valentines.

These activities have something to offer the kids involved. And Toycen says Lawrentians need the community exposure that Little Vikes provides.

“It’s always good to help and serve your community in whatever way you can,” he says. “Especially people coming from out of state and out of the country, for them to get a real feel for the Midwest and the Wisconsin lifestyle.”

Despite the focus on athletics, the Little Vikes club is open to anyone on campus dedicated to supporting wellness in Fox Cities youth. The organizers are setting their sights on growth.

“I want to see the club grow,” Toycen says simply. “Part of the reason we went through LUCC is to make sure it stays here. I feel like there’s a need for it. I want to see that need be served each year well after both of us move on.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Lawrence to add women’s ice hockey in 2020-21; first new sport since 1986

Photo shows Lawrence University Hockey signage at the ice arena in Appleton.
A women’s hockey program will join the men’s program on the Lawrence University athletics lineup for the 2020-21 season. The search for a coach will begin this summer.

Story by Joe Vanden Acker / Athletics

Lawrence University will add a 22nd varsity sports program when women’s hockey begins play in the 2020-21 season, Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray announced.

“We are excited to bring intercollegiate NCAA women’s ice hockey to Lawrence University with a competitive start date of the 2020-21 academic year,” Abaray said. “The time is right. We can grow our regional footprint, increase the athletics opportunities for women student-athletes and enhance the overall experience of athletics at Lawrence.”

The addition of a women’s hockey team brings the roster of Lawrence women’s sports to 11, matching that of men’s teams. It marks the first program to be added to Lawrence athletics since men’s hockey achieved varsity status in 1986.

The work of getting the program up and running begins now with the hiring of the person to guide the team. Lawrence is conducting a national search for the program’s first head coach.

“We will hire a head coach this summer so that person has the full year to recruit our first varsity women’s ice hockey roster and integrate into the athletics department and greater institutional environment,” Abaray said. “It truly is an exciting time to be a Viking.”

The addition of the Vikings brings the number of NCAA Division III women’s hockey teams to 67, and Lawrence is in the middle of fertile recruiting ground. Minnesota has the largest girls’ hockey participation in the country, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois rank fourth through sixth, respectively.

The Lawrence women’s team is the 10th member of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, the premier hockey conference in the country and the home of the Vikings men’s squad.

“The NCHA is extremely pleased and enthusiastic with Lawrence University’s decision to sponsor an intercollegiate women’s hockey program, bringing membership in the women’s division to 10 programs,” NCHA Commissioner Don Olson said. “The conference is particularly pleased to have a present conference member initiate competition in women’s hockey and add to the strength and depth of the women’s division of the NCHA. In addition, Lawrence’s decision further establishes the NCHA’s leadership in the NCAA Division III hockey community as Lawrence becomes the fourth conference member to initiate sponsorship of women’s hockey in the past five years.”

The NCHA women’s conference started in 2000 with five teams, but the league was reshaped in 2013 when four teams, all from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, departed. At that point, the NCHA had seven members, Adrian College, Concordia University Wisconsin, Finlandia University, Lake Forest College, Marian University, St. Norbert College and the College of St. Scholastica. Aurora University, Trine University and Northland College began NCHA play in 2017. The league has nine members heading into the 2019-20 season.

The winner of the NCHA playoffs receives the Slaats Cup and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. NCAA women’s hockey championship competition began in 2002 with Elmira College winning the first title. Plattsburgh State took the crown in 2019.

The Lawrence women will play at the Appleton Family Ice Center, which has been home to the Lawrence men’s team since 1999. The Lawrence women will move into the current quarters of the Viking men’s program as an expanded men’s locker room, student-athlete lounge, athletic training area and office space are currently under construction on the south side of the building.

Joe Vanden Acker is the director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University. Email: joseph.m.vandenacker@lawrence.edu

When March Madness came to Lawrence: 15 years later, bonds stay strong

“That’s when you start
thinking, man,
this is kind of a big deal”

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Sometimes madness can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Those who have even a passing curiosity of college basketball know the month of March is an unfolding tapestry of drama and strategy, unabashed joy and cruel heartbreak, playing out on hardwood courts across the country, often in spacious arenas housing hoops royalty but sometimes in small but achingly charming gymnasiums far from the spotlight.

So begins our flashback to 15 years ago, when the men’s basketball team from Lawrence University began its own magical dance through March Madness. It was a run that took the Vikings to the Division III Elite 8 before they suffered an agonizing 1-point overtime loss to the eventual national champions in a game that the then-Lawrence coach calls one of the greatest college basketball games ever played — even though the gymnasium in Tacoma, Washington, was mostly empty.

No, this is not a story that ended with a national championship. History rarely remembers a team that came up two games short.

But March Madness is different. A good Cinderella story has legs, made of moments and memories that live on.

Until March 2004, Lawrence had never won an NCAA tournament game. Ever. It hadn’t happened in 101 years.

They would win three on this post-season journey, a fourth slipping from their fingers, a Final Four berth just a few ticks of the clock out of reach.

Division III gets little love from national media, so this wasn’t quite the hysteria of Maryland-Baltimore County beating top-seeded Virginia last year. But it was big here. The Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, chronicled Lawrence’s run through the 2004 tournament with equal parts excitement and astonishment.

— — —

“Those brainiacs over at Lawrence showed they can ball with anybody on the Division III level, and those of you who were paying attention no doubt had quite a ball following their Shock the Nation National Tour. One point, one play from a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four. Lawrence University? Tell you what, folks, on a larger scale, this would be like Lehigh making it to the Elite Eight in Division I.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

Still winning

As we check in with that 2003-04 team 15 years later, we find that those players who posted a 24-5 record and went undefeated at Alexander Gymnasium were far more than basketball players. It turns out they were scholars, embracing the academic side of Lawrence as fervently as they attacked their basketball preparations.

Chris Braier, a sophomore that season who would go on to become the most accomplished player in Lawrence history, would also earn the status of Academic All-American. Now 34 and a physician assistant in Chicago, he earned his MBA in December from Northwestern University and has added clinical health care consultant to his resume.

Three other players from that team are now doctors — Kyle MacGillis, a hand/wrist/elbow surgeon in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Jason Holinbeck, an orthopedic surgeon in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Brett Sjoberg, a radiologist in Madison.

Kyle MacGillis drives to the basket against UW-Stevens Point in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament.

Chris MacGillis, brother of Kyle and the leading scorer with 22 points in that Elite 8 game, earned his law degree and is now a partner in a Milwaukee area law office.

Ben Klekamp earned his doctorate and now works as an epidemiologist in Florida.

Another is a college basketball coach, another a financial advisor, another a director of business development, another a manager of a regional business. The list goes on.

Count John Tharp, the then-34-year-old coach of that team, impressed. Not surprised, but impressed.

“The greatness of that run wasn’t necessarily just the wins,” Tharp says as he chats from Hillsdale College, where he now coaches the Division II Chargers. “The greatness of the run was the collection of people that we had in the program at that time. You want to epitomize what a student-athlete is, it was the collection of guys that were on that basketball team.”

— — —

“This whole experience has left a mark that will never go away, and that’s a good thing. For the journey was full of tales and memories that have no shelf life.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

An historic run

By the time the tournament began in early March 2004, the Lawrence campus had already taken notice that something special was going on. Despite having no player taller than 6’6″, the Vikings had imposed their will as they marched through the Midwest Conference schedule.

As the season rolled on, Alexander Gymnasium got down-right rowdy. It was full. It was loud.

The Appleton Fire Department had to turn people away because of fire code concerns.

“The vibe around campus, people were really excited,” Braier says. “The first game, there was a row of chairs along the baseline at Alex, and by the end of the year they had to build a whole new bleacher section on the baseline because of the crowds.

“When you would come to games, a lot of times the women would play before us, so you would come in during the first half of the women’s game, and you started noticing that there would be a line to get into our games. You couldn’t find a parking spot an hour and a half before the game. That’s when you start thinking, man, this is kind of a big deal.”

They won all 12 home games.

Chris Braier, here playing against Sul Ross State in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament, was inducted into the Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame three years ago.

Then came the tournament. The run began with a first-round 86-51 blowout of Lakeland at a packed Alexander Gym.

“I can remember diving for a loose ball into the standing room-only crowd in one of the corners and realizing that they’re 10 deep in the corners to watch this game,” Braier says.

Then it was on to Storm Lake, Iowa, a seven-hour bus trip into the round of 32.

“When we went to play Buena Vista and we were in Storm Lake, Iowa, we had a ton of students who were at that game,” Tharp recalls. “That’s a great effort to be there. It was amazing. To come out of that locker room and to see how many Lawrence kids were there, and just people from Appleton who were not even necessarily connected to Lawrence, that was incredibly special.”

Lawrence would beat Buena Vista 72-66, sending them to the Sweet 16 in Tacoma and a match up with Sul Ross State, a team from Alpine, Texas, loaded with size and talented junior college transfers. It was unchartered territory for any school from the Midwest Conference, which had never seen a team advance past the second round.

A thrilling 86-79 overtime win that included a late double-digit comeback moved the Vikings to the Elite 8 and a showdown with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III power located just 60 miles west of the Lawrence campus but light years away in terms of basketball history. The Pointers at the time had advanced to the Elite 8 twice in the previous decade and would go on to win back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005.

It was a nail-biter, neither team giving ground, filled with drama to the end — witnessed by no more than 400 or so people in a college fieldhouse nearly 2,000 miles from home. A late Stevens Point three-pointer sent the game into overtime — a bonus five minutes — and then Lawrence’s improbable journey came crashing down in the waning seconds of that extra period.

A made basket by the Pointers to retake the lead. Then a last-second shot that would have won the game for Lawrence fell short. The scoreboard read 82-81.

“I just remember being completely exhausted, dropping to the floor,” Braier says.

Just like that, the ride was over.

“You felt like that last shot, how does that not go in?” Braier says. “It’s like we were in a movie. In the movie, that shot goes in.”

Puget Sound, the host school, had lost the night before to Stevens Point. Thus, witnesses in the arena that night were few.

“There weren’t more than 300 or 400 people in the crowd at that game, and it was probably one of the greatest college basketball games ever played,” Tharp says. “It was a phenomenal game.”

Rob Nenahlo buries his head as he falls to the floor at the end of the game against UW-Stevens Point.
Rob Nenahlo falls to the floor as the game against UWSP ends one point short.

Stevens Point would roll through the next two games to claim a national championship. Lawrence was left with what might have been.

“I think when you talk to everybody they all think we were one or two possessions away from maybe having a chance to win a national championship,” Tharp says.

After the game, even the Stevens Point coach wished aloud that both teams could move on.

— — —

“The Vikings would have gladly jumped at that invitation to play one more game together. On Sunday, though, the talk in the airport was already moving to this week’s final exams on campus, spring-break trips and other ‘real life’ adventures. The team knew that this particular group, like all teams, only receives one chance to write its story.” Dick Knapinski, The Post-Crescent

— — —

“I think there was a sense of disappointment and heartbreak after that loss,” Tharp says. “Afterwards, and over the years, I think there is an obviously special place in everybody’s hearts about the run that was made.”

For Chris MacGillis, a senior on that team, the end of the journey hurt more than missing out on a chance at a national championship.

Chris MacGillis

“I wasn’t emotional because we lost and I thought we should have won,” he says. “I just remember becoming emotional because of how proud I was and how happy I was to be with this group of guys. We were a very tight group. We all relied on each other and we all cared about each other, and we still do to this day. I was more emotional about not being able to do this with these guys anymore than I was about losing.”

Lawrence would continue to dominate the Midwest Conference for the next couple of years, going undefeated in the 2005-06 regular season and claiming the school’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking. They’d win a couple more tournament games, as well. But they never quite recaptured the glory of 2004.

“It really was magical,” MacGillis says.

Still together

Fifteen years later, most of the players on that team remain connected. There are job changes and weddings and children and other life moments to navigate. But the bonds formed during that memorable season remain to this day. For basketball players, a March Madness experience, no matter if it’s under the bright lights of D-1 or in the more dimly lit shadows of D-3, lodges in your soul and stays there forever.

When Braier was inducted into Lawrence’s athletic hall of fame three years ago, many of the players from that team made their way back to Appleton. Braier said it was a reminder to him of how special that group was.

“I always thought, man, these guys are ridiculously smart,” Braier says. “That was my first thought when I first dealt with my teammates.

“I don’t think at the time you realize how special of a group of individuals this was. It was just an everyday thing. … Everyone was such a high achiever. You didn’t think it was anything different. But then when you stepped away or you talked to friends from other teams, that’s when you realized it.”

The coaches remain as connected as the players, despite a decade and a half of travels and life experiences separating them from those three weeks of madness.

“Those guys are part of my life, and obviously things have changed a little bit with me being at a different school and those guys are all over the country now, but I think everyone knows where everybody is at and what everybody is doing,” Tharp says. “But what makes it special, I still think to this day if anybody needed anyone else on that team, I think everybody would still be there for each other.”

Braier is getting married in September and most of his Lawrence teammates will be there.

There’s also a Las Vegas getaway every March that reunites many of them. No better time than March to recall that fleeting moment when Lawrence basketball got to dance.

“Man, I could talk about this forever,” Braier says.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu